On November 18, 1985, two titans of the NFL faced off on Monday Night Football. The New York Giants, led by Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, hosted the Washington Redskins, who took the field with Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Theismann at the helm. That game ended with a Redskins win, but it’s mainly remembered by one play that changed the National Football League forever.
In the second quarter, an attempted flea-flicker ended in Theismann being brought down from behind by Taylor. The 36-year-old quarterback’s right leg snapped during the tackle, which ultimately ended his career. Oddly enough, a scary injury fell upon another Redskins quarterback and drew strange comparisons to the past on the exact same day 33 years later.
On November 18, 2018, Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith took a shotgun snap in the third quarter, but the Houston Texans defense immediately broke through and chased him backwards.
Just like Lawrence Taylor 33 years before, another NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, teamed up with Kareem Jackson to pull Smith down while his leg was caught underneath. Smith rolled over, immediately took off his helmet, and this gruesome injury ended his 2018 season after immediate, emergency surgery.
Alex Smith Leg Injury Video
The parallels between these two injuries — both were in their mid-30s, both played for the Redskins, and both were injured after the league’s best defensive player brought them down on November 18 — are downright eerie.
Theismann’s injury resulted in his broken leg not healing properly, which left one leg shorter than the other and forced him to retire. The injury changed how important the left tackle position and protecting a right-handed quarterback’s “blindside” really is in professional football.
Smith’s diagnosis after breaking both his tibia and fibula in his right leg was uncertain at the time, but with modern medicine and treatments being far better than the past, it is hopeful Smith could recover in time for training camp.
UPDATE: Smith was leading the NFC East division-leading Redskins to a really strong season, winning six of the team’s first nine games. After his injury, coach Jay Gruden turned to Colt McCoy, Josh Johnson and Mark Sanchez, all of whom combined to go 1-5 down the stretch as Washington’s starting quarterback, losing to the Cowboys, Giants, Titans and Eagles twice.
In the 2019 offseason, the Redskins acquired Case Keenum from the Minnesota Vikings to help bolster the team’s quarterback depth. They also drafted Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, hoping to land their QB of the future.
As for Smith, his gruesome leg injury was anything but an easy recovery.
The first time NFL fans saw Smith publicly after his injury was at a Washington Wizards game, where he was wearing wildly-elaborate device called an external fixator to hold his leg together. After eight months, Smith was able to shed that device and begin healing naturally.
“The last 8 months have been nothing short of crazy,” Elizabeth Smith, Alex’s wife, wrote in an Instagram post. “Although it’s not over, today is a big milestone. We are shedding the weight Alex has been carrying (literally and figuratively). It’s one step closer to the goal. The resilience, determination and mental fortitude of this man is unmatched.”
The Washington Times later reported that Smith underwent 17 different surgeries to repair the compound fracture, and about half of those were due to an infection.
Last season’s horrible ending hasn’t killed the spirit of the Redskins’ Alex Smith. However, with the potential for Smith’s four-year contract to end early after the 2020 season, the clock is ticking. Smith’s NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs and Redskins is beyond respectable, but sadly, it feels like a long shot that he ever returns to a football field again at 35 years old.
This post was originally published November 19, 2018. It’s been updated as Alex Smith continues his recovery, as well as with information on Washington’s end to the 2018 season.